Menstrual Cup: Time to reduce that monthly plastic?

I chose to go padless during my periods. It is eco-friendly, easy-to-use, safe and cheap. And I am none the worse for it, says Sejal.


We don’t have statistics from India, but one can safely assume that the phenomenon is similar everywhere. An average North American uses 16,800 disposable pads/tampons during a lifetime. Every year, in Britain alone, a staggering 1b sanitary towels get disposed off and end up in landfills.

I have a habit of lecturing kirana store folks on the perils of plastic, whenever they offer me a (disposable) plastic bag, which I turn down. But, yesterday, to my pleasant surprise, a store owner near my house proudly pointed me to a hoarding mentioning their newly instated policy of charging for plastic bags. In fact, from what I have observed and read, this is a trend that has been sweeping the whole country, albeit slowly. In terms of individual environmental responsibility too, I have seen strides made in the right direction, in my circles at any rate. I have friends who now cycle to work, buy local, curb meat, and most commonly, reduce the use of disposables.

However, this post revolves around one disposable item that most of us think is impossible to avoid – disposable sanitary pads, the very discussion of which makes many of us squeamish. For a few years it was sort of unfathomable to even conceive of doing away with pads, but I kept my search going for eco-friendly alternatives anyway. About two years ago, I finally found my answer – in a cup! Before I talk about the alternative, I think it is germane to discuss the perils of disposable sanitary pads.

Assuming that a woman needs a minimum of 12-14  disposable pads per cycle, an average urban middle class Indian woman  generates at least 5000 disposable sanitary pads as waste in her lifetime, average figures are probably twice this. Most of these disposable pads end up littering roadsides or getting burnt in huge trash heaps, releasing toxins. Some of them are eaten by street dogs or cows who choke on the plastic linings used. The health concerns reported are also many including adverse allergic reactions and rashes. In my mind, menstrual cups are an eco-friendly and healthy alternative worth exploring.

A Menstrual cup last for 1.5 to 2 years and are convenient to use, says Sejal.

During a visit to Araria, Bihar, Kamayani Keki, a volunteer member of the Association for India’s development (AID) introduced me to the concept of menstrual cups. Soon after getting back to Delhi, I had a friend from US bring me one ‘Diva cup‘. After a few initial hiccups with the new system, I learnt to use it adequately.

Soon I discovered a whole bunch of bonus benefits, besides it comforting my green conscience and my overall need to lead a more sustainable life. After I accidentally lost the Diva cup, in six months, I found a better and far cheaper Indian brand of menstrual cups called the SheCup. I have been using it now for two years, and in these two years, I have not had to use disposable sanitary pads even once.

So what exactly is a menstrual cup?

It is a type of cup, generally made of high-quality silicon, worn inside the vagina during menstruation to collect menstrual fluid. Unlike tampons and pads, the cup collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it.

Though they may be uncomfortable and need some getting used to, they serve well after you learn to use them properly. Benefits far outweigh the initial hiccups in using them.

Eco-friendly: An average menstrual cup lasts for about 1.5-2 years, saving huge amount of disposable pads from ending up in the landfill. Cost-effective: An average middle-class Indian woman spends approximately Rs. 1400 for disposable pads. In comparison to this, SheCup – an Indian brand of menstrual cup costs only around Rs. 700 and lasts for 1.5 years Odorless: As the menstrual flow is restricted inside the cup, it does not come in contact with the air, hence generates no odor.

Long term protection: It can be worn up to 12 hours, which is twice as long as you would normally wear a pad or tampon.

Leak-free: This is a surprise benefit.  You can even wear these at swimming pools and beaches and waterfalls. They wonderfully work for women with hectic lifestyle and other purposes such as sports and yoga.

Eco femme sanitary pads

EcoFemme’s colourful environmentally conscious washable sanitary pads.

Safe: They are devoid of any harmful substances such as chlorine (used for bleaching some tampons and pads) or fragrances and unlike tampons; they have no association of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). It also doesn’t cause any allergic reaction or rashes.

“Aw, I can’t touch that dirty blood!” – is a common response that I get from a lot of female friends. I have no straight answer to this question. How can the blood that nurtures and protects the developing life (foetus or an egg) be dirty? Menstrual blood is actually just blood and tissue that is left unused and taken out of your body. There is nothing dirty about it whatsoever.

Using menstrual cups is simple.

Most women get accustomed to using menstrual cups within one or two cycles. I found Wiki-how sections on menstrual cups the most useful.

Washable cloth pads are another alternative.

Goonj recycled cloth pads

At Goonj, waste cloth is recycled to make sanitary pads for women in rural areas, costing Rs. 2 for one.

EcoFemme is an initiative of Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG), making washable cloth pads, “high-tech” versions – as they call it – of the traditional ones. Cloth pads are shaped for women’s bodies, stitched using soft yet durable cloth, and held in place by snap buttons. The pads are made of 100% cotton, and made to last for 5 years. Goonj, an NGO based in Delhi, also makes similar cloth pads by reusing old clothes collected from donors.

Sanitary pads may seem like an extreme place to start if you want to move towards leading a sustainable life, but the barrier is more in the thought than anything else – be it logistics, convenience, accessibility, hygiene or health. The initial squeamishness is a small price to pay, considering the environmental damage pads cause.

I am not padded any more and am none the worse for it. And the earth, probably just a bit better off from how I found it.

You can also read:

A nation of Healthy Women

Practising hygine is as important as performing pujas

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A Telecommunication engineer by profession, who used to earn her bread by working with MNCs for about 6 years post-graduation until she found her interests venturing into environmental and social problems. She then took a break for few years and traveled through the country, primarily in rural areas, where she was exposed to vegan lifestyle. She's now a passionate vegan, freelance writer at the s... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A Telecommunication engineer by profession, who used to earn her bread by working with MNCs for about 6 years post-graduation until she found her interests venturing into environmental and social problems. She then took a break for few years and traveled through the country, primarily in rural areas, where she was exposed to vegan lifestyle. She's now a passionate vegan, freelance writer at the s... more

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  • long long ago there used to be simple cotton pads by carefree. day by day we r becoming more plastic frndly! but idea of switching to cups or cloth pads gives me shivers 🙁

    • Anupriya Pande

      Uma … I have been using cups for sometime now and trust me .. they are safe, eco-friendly and long lasting. I really recommend that you give away with your fears and give it a try.

      You can get more information about menstrual cups available in India at

      http://www.shecup.com

      • Sayali

        Hey!! Its been more than 2 months. I am trying hard to reach SHE cups/ any other company for cups in India. Cant find. Can any one help.

        • Anupriya Pande Marar

          hey Sayali,

          You can easily get menstrual cup from below website.

          http://www.arize.in

          Few of my friends recently bought from there.

          Regards,

          Anupriya

          • Sayali

            Thank you so much. Placed my order. Also could get in touch with Shecup helpline today(co-incidence) they are very helpful too.

          • Anupriya Pande Marar

            Great. Keep spreading the word friend. We can do our bit to reduce monthly plastic 🙂

        • vidya k

          Dear Sayali,
          Check out the site http://www.vcup.co.in

        • Swati

          The Pebble Jar stocks them-

          http://www.thepebblejar.in/shop/eco-friendly-essentials/she-cup-menstrual-cup/

          They sent it to me in a lovely gift pack!

  • I doubt that anyone would compromise on personal comfort, especially when it comes to menstrual hygiene, JUST for the sake of saving on plastic… but here’s the good news: The MOST compelling reasons for menstrual cups, in my opinion, are comfort, convenience and safety! It has changed my life so much to the better, not having to worry about my period except for twice a day. I urge everyone to try it, put aside any scepticism, you’ll find it much cleaner than tampons or pads and there is not smell at all because the blood does not oxidize! I think it’s also even more cost-effective than Sejal calculates, it can live more longer 2 years if you take good care of it and boil in hot water after periods.

  • chhandosree

    Dear Sejal, Needless to say again that this is a well written article. Being an Indian, I think the most convincing point to switch over from regular sanitary napkins to the cup could be ‘not required to dispose everyday’. In fact most of the women I know have issues with ‘disposing off’ the napkin. Some throw it out at night, some take a walk to dispose it as throwing it in the home-dustbin is not allowed… that way the cup is a boon.

  • Gedi

    Hey,
    People are skeptical of drinking liquids stored in plastic bottles. Wouldn’t keeping a plastic cup in contact with a very crucial and sensitive part like the vagina, for 5 X 24 hrs be harmful?

    • sejal

      Hi Gedi, this is not a plastic cup, its a silicon cup.

      • Anupriya Pande

        Hi Gedi …

        Silicone has anti-bacterial property making it safe for internal usage. If you notice silicone has been used as a material for breast implants as well. And there is stays for ages … which in a way proves that silicone is a safe material.

  • Great alternative 🙂

  • poonam maria prem

    Sejal I came across a Diva cup some 5 yrs back, and turned it down. More so because I was worried to use it. I think I am going to give this a try,

    • Anupriya Pande

      hi Poonam,

      Diva cups are quite expensive ones as they cost 35$-40$.

      In India we have a supplier called Shecup who make products equivalent to Diva cups.

      you can visit them @ http://www.shecup.com.

      I recently got my menstrual cup from them and it is working well for me.

  • Great Read! I heard about this a while back but was always skeptical about using them. Guess I am gonna give it a try now. 🙂

  • Priyank Kakani

    You can contact me to purchase Shecup(Menstrual Cup) in India.

    You will get Sr. Gynecologist advice at the time of Purchase or even after.

    Thanks for showing up.

  • Nisha

    Good job!!
    Thanks for the information. ll definately try out menustral cups.

  • aravinda

    It is so nice to see this article … here is another one your readers might like: http://askamma.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/menstrual-cup-now-in-india/

  • Viraf Mehta

    Dear Madam,

    We are working on a social project through NGO’S , to promote Health and personal
    Hygiene among BPL women.

    On reviewing your article,I find the product SHECUP as a very fine product and considering the current worldwide burning issue of MSWM and in particular, to eliminate environmental and health hazards arising out of its handling and disposal.of used sanitary napkins,I look forward to your opinion and suggestions regarding the possibility of considering procurement and distribution of SHE CUPS for this project.

    Best regards,

    For GREENTECHNOLOGY PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

    VIRAF S MEHTA

    09022731942

    http://www.gtpsonline.com

    https://www.facebook.com/greentechonline

  • Swati